Scientists identified bacteria that are capable of chopping down plastic, i.e. blocks of Polyurethane

photo source: biomerieux-industry

Content by: Balgopal |

Polyurethane(PUR and PU) is a polymer composed of organic units joined by carbamate (urethane) links. It is flexible, lightweight and is used in various kinds of products used in our day-to-day life. Some of the examples are automobile seats, cleaning products, automotive parts, wheels, body armor, etc. In 2015, around 3.5 million tones of plastics produced in Europe were reckoned as polyurethane products.

Polyurethane being a thermosetting polymer, does not melt when heated, Hence it becomes extremely difficult and energy-encompassing to recycle or destroy. Therefore a vast amount of dumping of polyurethane can be seen in landfill sites. Where a blend of toxic chemicals is released out of which some are carcinogenic.

Many countries around the world are having research to reduce plastic waste. Many of the researchers are finding a way out in indulging microorganisms to degrade plastics. Most focus is being given on fungi to introduce the biodegradation of polyurethanes.

A strain of bacteria (Pseudomonas sp. TDA1) was identified from a site rich in brittle plastic waste by the researchers based at Leipzig's Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ. It belongs to a group of extremophilic bacteria known for their tolerance of toxic organic compounds, which is released by waste polyurethane. Obligingly, Polyurethane Bonds are capable of being attacked by this strain of bacteria.

Genomic analysis was performed to understand how Pseudomonas sp.TDA1 metabolizes chemical compound that is found in polyurethane and found that these compounds are being used essentially to sustain life.

Dr.Hermann Heiper said that the compound can be used as a sole source of carbon, nitrogen, and energy by the bacteria. These findings are an important step in reusing the products (polyurethane) which is hard to recycle.

Identification of the genes that code for the enzymes which break down these compounds, will be the first step of the future research on the bacteria. Basic research required before work can begin using Pseudomonas sp. TDA1's usual capabilities degradation of polyurethane.

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